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Apparently, PIR has friends

February 20, 2010
Scooter parking at Portland International Raceway

Scooter parking is where you find it at PIR (Orin O'Neill photos)

The sun was shining, but a thin layer of ice covered the GTS’ seat. Well, technically it’s still winter.

I was up early to head over to Portland International Raceway. Today was PIR’s Opening Day, and many activities were planned. It had been a while since I was last there, but an opportunity to take the GTS for a slow lap around the track was not to be missed.

That, and the free lunch.

Portland International Raceway is unique in the U.S., being a city park. It was built shortly after a flood on the Columbia River washed away a town called Vanport. Until recently, the area was considered a flood plain, so nobody wanted to build much of anything there, making it a perfect place for a race track.

Look carefully at the photo and you’ll see Mt. St. Helens. Yes, that Mt. St. Helens. In 1980 Portland got covered with a thick layer of volcanic ash, a couple times. While Eastern Washington got buried, Seattle escaped with a couple of light dustings.

Mt. St. Helens is visible to the north

I spent a considerable chunk of my life at PIR during my involvement in motorsports, and considered it my home track even though I lived in Seattle. PIR was a good place to learn the art of racing, it being much more technical than most people realize. It also offered lots of room to screw up, with few obstacles and plenty of open space.

Opening Day was organized by a group called Friends of PIR. In my day, PIR didn’t seem to have many friends, especially among the neighbors in North Portland, who complained loudly about the noise. Having been in North Portland when race cars were on the track, I always wondered just where this noise of which people spoke was. It seemed mostly drowned out by the noise in the neighborhood.

No matter, the track is still here. Personally, I can put up with a little noise if it means people who’ve just got to race do it at PIR instead of on the street.

I arrived just as the track announcer was talking about the drive-around. However, sights like this gave me pause.

Ferrari F430 Corse

This wasn’t the only Ferrari in the paddock. There were lots of other exotic machines: Mitsubishi Lancer Evos, BMW M3s with roll cages and really big brakes, actual race cars. And hot 2-wheelers.

Kawasaki Ninja somethingorother

While the agenda said the drive-arounds would be at “highway speeds” behind a pace car, I was beginning to wonder just what highway they were thinking of. Cars and bikes like this aren’t real happy going 55 mph.

I’ll pass. But if anyone on the Spring Scoot committee is reading this, I think it would be awesome to include a lap of PIR on one of the group rides. At legal street speeds, of course.

I decided to kill the time until lunch wandering around the paddock assessing the state of motorsports in the year 2010.

Stock car racing is called that because when it began, the cars were actual street-driven vehicles. These days, a stock car is a purpose-built race car with a sedan-like body. In fact, in just about all series, the bodies are pretty much identical.

Here’s a “Ford Fusion.”

Ford Fusion stock car

Here’s a “Dodge Charger.”

Dodge Charger stock car

They differ in the decals that represent the headlights. And the names written on the front.

This Honda Civic Si coupe, OTOH, is an actual Honda Civic. It competes in SCCA’s Showroom Stock category.

Showroom Stock Honda Civic Si

SCCA created Showroom Stock back in 1972 as a means for people to go racing with a minimal investment of time and money. The list of eligible cars included 11 $2,000 economy cars and one $4,000 ringer (and that’s a long story, best left for another day).

As time went on, the cars got faster, heavier and more expensive (and to be fair, SCCA had nothing to do with this—the auto industry was going this direction). As this happened, the rules evolved further and further from “showroom stock.”

Faster and heavier meant they went through things like brakes and suspension parts in a most uneconomical fashion. They crashed harder, too. Where a stock part once worked, a racing part was substituted. Where a bolt-in roll bar once sufficed, a welded-in roll cage not unlike what you’d find in NASCAR is now required. In case you were wondering, that’s the steering wheel hanging from the roll cage. It’s removable, making ingress and egress to the custom-fitted (and non-adjustable) racing seat easier.

The owner/driver of this car told me brakes are still a very serious issue. He said the brake pads are the same material used on Grand-Am Daytona Prototypes, yet a set of brakes still only lasts one race. The brake pedal gets mushy after about five laps, he said. He went on to say competitors were lobbying the rulemakers to allow replacement of the stock brake lines with braided stainless steel items because the stock ones have been bursting due to the heat generated by the brakes.

Yikes. I’m suddenly very glad I got racing out of my system years ago.

Opening Day also afforded a chance to assess the state of hot-rodding, circa 2010.

Toyota Yaris, tuned

The owner of this Toyota Yaris said it’s pretty standard for a tuned subcompact: plus-something wheels and tires, lowered suspension, low-restriction air intake and exhaust, and a (kinda) noisy muffler. Go much beyond that and things start to get expensive and complicated.

I like it. I wouldn’t have minded taking it around the track for a few hot laps.

Buddy the dog

There were dogs, too. In fact, dogs started showing up in the paddock at PIR long before they appeared in coffee shops. Favicon

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